Longtime group still helping area needy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; One generous gift from a Natchez philanthropist in 1904 founded Associated Charities. Ninety-nine years later, the agency continues to help some of the community’s neediest people, providing clothes, food and medicine.

Agnes Carpenter set aside $27,300 as start-up money for the charitable organization &045; a big sum for early years of the 20th century. &uot;It is a very nominal investment in today’s terms, but it was a big donation then and has served us well,&uot; said Robert Joseph, chairman of the Associated Charities board.

Joseph, his wife, Orilla Joseph, work with families who cannot afford necessary clothing and food. Polly Atkins, also a board member, is in charge of helping families who cannot afford medicines.

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The agency’s work continues the year around, as needs know no season, Joseph said. &uot;We have gotten assistance from United Way,&uot; he said. &uot;But the cuts from them are going to be drastic this year. We don’t know how much we’ll be cut, but with International Paper gone, it’s difficult for United Way. We’re geared up for that.&uot;

Associated Charities does not solicit gifts from the community, but the agency gladly receives them. &uot;We do have to watch our money, but we can help a lot of people,&uot; he said. &uot;We work with other agencies, too. Catholic Charities may call us and tell us about a problem. AJFC makes requests, and we respect those. We may have a doctor or a hospital call about someone.&uot;

For Johnny Hardin, who cares for his disabled 84-year-old mother, Mary B. Hardin, Associated Charities has been a blessing. A McRae’s employee prior to his mother’s illness, he gave up his job to move into his mother’s home and attend to her multiple needs. Mrs. Hardin, retired after many years as a cook at Holiday Inn, Ramada Inn and the Carriage House Restaurant, has medical problems resulting from a stroke.

A family friend told Robert Joseph about the Hardins. On Joseph’s first try, Johnny Hardin refused the assistance. &uot;At first I said no when he offered help,&uot; Hardin said. &uot;At that time, my thought was that ‘I’m doing this; this is my cross to bear, and I have to bear it myself and not burden anyone else.’&uot;

Some coaxing from the friend convinced him to accept the help. &uot;It’s been about a year, and Mr. Bob has been there for me ever since.&uot;

Helping the elderly is an important part of their work, Joseph said. However, the agency also helps children. &uot;At the beginning of the school year, we buy uniforms, coats and other clothes for children who can’t afford them,&uot; he said. &uot;My wife usually takes the child to the store and buys the clothes.&uot;

Medicines require more of the agency’s budget than ever before. &uot;Medicine is one of the most important things,&uot; Joseph said. &uot;People are sometimes caught between social programs; their salary is too much for them to be eligible for some programs. They have to pay the rent every month. And then sometimes they have to make choices between buying groceries or medications.&uot;

Once dedicated only to the Natchez area, the agency now serves needy people in counties surrounding Adams and in Concordia Parish. &uot;Miss Agnes Carpenter set up Associated Charities with by-laws smart enough to be adjusted according to needs. When we became part of United Way, we had to expand into Franklin and Wilkinson counties and into Vidalia and Ferriday,&uot; Joseph said.

The agency for many years was known for its large collection of clothing, housed in a location where needy families could come to select items suitable for them. A few years ago, Associated Charities gave up the clothing give-away and transferred those items to a church mission that specializes in that type of ministry.

&uot;This has always been a well-organized and well-executed charity. It has maintained its credibility,&uot; Joseph said. &uot;Anyone can help us. We appreciate donations. And we have some routine givers &045; not a lot of money, but some good, regular supporters.&uot;

Johnny Hardin can attest to the importance of gifts provided by Associated Charities, both monetary and spiritual. &uot;Mr. Bob told me to be strong and to continue to pray. He told me that God is not going to put more on me than I can stand.&uot;

Hardin experiences every day the good work of the agency. &uot;It has taught me a lot about love,&uot; he said. &uot;When I see that they go out of their way to help the elderly and it doesn’t matter what color you are &045; I don’t have the words to describe how it makes me feel.&uot;

In addition to Robert Joseph, Orilla Joseph and Polly Atkins, board members of the agency are Amanda Baker, Holly Baker, Percy Simmons, Sally Simmons, Bill Cassels, Anna Laura Cassels, Earnest Barlow and Annie Pearl Barlow.

Donations to Associated Charities may be mailed to Robert Joseph, 38 Kingston Road, Natchez, MS 39120.